Scott proposes ban on Florida investments in Venezuela

A state agency overseen by the governor and two cabinet members would be prohibited from doing business with any outfit tied to the Maduro regime in Venezuela, under a proposal released Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott's anti-investing outline for the Florida State Board of Administration, which doesn't currently have any such investments, coincides with international efforts aimed at putting pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to cancel a controversial election planned for Sunday. Maduro is pushing ahead with the election, which critics fear will weaken the country's democracy and strengthen Maduro's position in a country embroiled in protests that have left more than 100 dead over the past few months.

“I look forward to working with the SBA on this important proposal and I will work with the Florida Legislature during the next legislative session to take more action against Maduro and his gang of thugs,” Scott said in a press release issued Thursday.

The measure doesn't appear to go as far as one initially floated by the governor earlier this month, when Scott said he was “proposing that the State of Florida be prohibited from doing business with any organization that supports this dictatorship.”

Scott's proposal is slated to go before the trustees of the State Board of Administration —- comprised of Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis —- on Aug. 16.

Patronis, appointed by Scott last month, quickly voiced support for Scott's plan while announcing that the Florida Treasury does not conduct any business with Venezuelan companies tied to the Maduro administration.

“The Maduro regime is known for inflicting gross human rights abuses against the people of Venezuela, and under no circumstances should Florida's investment funds be tied to such tyranny,” Patronis said in a release.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, said Scott is sending a much-needed message to Wall Street.

“I think the idea is to use the power of the state of Florida,” Rodriguez, who is running for Congress, said. “The question is, is this going to be enough?”

Rodriguez is crafting legislation for the 2018 session that would expand Scott's proposed prohibition on investments to encompass all state agencies and would require divestment of existing investments.

Under Scott's proposal, the State Board of Administration would be prohibited from investing in securities issued by the Venezuelan government, companies that are majority-owned by the government, or businesses that trade in or with the government.

The order would also prohibit the State Board of Administration from participating in any proxy vote or resolution that advocates or supports the Maduro regime.

Florida law already bans the SBA from engaging in similar conduct with Cuba and Syria.

The proposed order won't require any agency action, according to John Kuczwanski, manager of external affairs for the State Board of Administration.

“As a result of prudent investing and disciplined policies and procedures, the SBA does not maintain any investments related to or owned by the Venezuela government,” Kuczwanski said in an email.

The agency doesn't have figures on state investments in companies that may have advanced money or that continue to trade with the Venezuelan government, he said.

Scott hasn't named or targeted any individual company, but Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which has taken heat for its purchase of $2.8 billion in bonds of Venezuela's state-run oil company through a broker in the secondary market, has met with the Florida governor and others to discuss his proposal.

As of early this month, Goldman Sachs, an investment manager of part of what is known as Florida's “long duration portfolio,” had an allocation from the state of $478 million, according to the state chief financial officer's office.

On Wednesday, the U.S. imposed sanctions on 13 high-ranking government and military officials in Venezuela, along with managers of the state oil company known as PDVSA.